WorldWide Drilling Resource®

NASA Tests New Drill for Mars Exploration Adapted from Information by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Rovers exploring the surface of Mars have been limited as to how deep they can drill, and only able to go a few inches. Scientists at NASA are currently testing a drill which may be capable of penetrating six feet into the red soil of Mars. Scientists believe drilling deeper may reveal a world we’ve never seen up close be- fore, one where there’s a chance for life. The drill, K-REX 2 developed in partnership with Honeybee Robotics, is attached to a rover carrying a suite of instruments, which can analyze soil samples and discover potential biosig- natures of microbial life. This project, the Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies, or ARADS, is an important demonstration of NASA’s ability to take these technologies to Mars. The new drill is being put to the test in the driest, most Mars-like place that exists on Earth - the Atacama Desert in Chile. “ARADS is all about preparing NASA to search for life on Mars,” said Brian Glass, principal investigator for the ARADS program at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Developing the science instruments and robotics we’ll need is a big part of that, and so is figuring out how we actually run the mission. The best way to practice that is to go and do it here on Earth.” Although the driest parts of the Atacama still contain a thousand times more water than Mars, it serves as the perfect testing ground for Glass and his team of engineers and scientists. Over the past four years, the team has travelled to the Atacama to develop the ability to detect remains of ancient life, or life that’s somehow surviving underground. Past robotic missions to Mars have indicated the planet not only had oceans of water, but also a denser atmosphere, which means it could have supported life at one time, or possibly even now. “If there’s any life on Mars’ subsurface, it’s likely in the form of microbes struggling to live off very trace amounts of water in soil or salt layers,” said Arwen Davé, systems engineer for ARADS. “Based on what the drill can tell us about the soil, we can detect where those layers are, maybe even leading us to where the life is.” Testing the remote capabilities of the rover was done with one team in Chile, while another team remained at NASAAmes to operate a “mission control” room where they analyzed results from afar and instructed the rover where to drill in the desert. This drill will not only need to dig deeply, it needs to dig smartly. As any drill operator can attest, drills can get stuck as they chew through the ground, and this drill is no different. With the closest humans millions of miles away, if the drill gets stuck while on Mars, it could mean the end of the mission. For drills operating on Mars, autonomy is more than a feature, it’s a re- quirement. To help the drill operate without real-time human input, every motor on the drill is continuously collecting feedback - how much pressure the drill bit runs into, the movement of each motor. This data will be logged and interpreted by the drill allowing it to course-correct on the fly. If it runs into a tougher material, the drill bit can apply more force. If the drill gets stuck, it knows exactly where it is and how to dislodge itself. The result is a drill capable of digging through almost any material on its own, producing a soil sample regardless of the challenges it may face. The data collected by the drill telling it how to operate in specific soil conditions, can also let it know where to look for life. “What’s unique about this drill is that it can take you from dirt to data, all on its own,” said Thomas Stucky, the sample- handling software lead for ARADS. “All the scientists have to do is point the rover to where it needs to dig, tell the drill how deep to go, and the drill will figure out the rest.” This same autonomous drill may also end up on the Moon as part of NASA’s goal to locate water and other resources to support a sustainable, long-term human presence in deep space. With a “hands- free” drill in its toolbox, NASA hopes to uncover the hidden worlds just beneath the surface of other planets. Perhaps this will lead to discovering the secrets to liv- ing beyond Earth. 30 FEBRUARY 2020 WorldWide Drilling Resource ® Congratulat ions to: Congr Carol Jansons Lakewood, CO Winner for January! Time for a Little Fun! January Puzzle Solution: Better Water Ind, Inc. SEMCO, Inc. Win a prize! Send your completed puzzle to: WWDR PO Box 660 Bonifay, FL 32425 or fax to: 850-547-0329 Can you identify which ads in this issue these two photos came from? ENV